I was not yet 3 months old when my father, Jack Bryson, passed on, in January 1957 and so only know about him from what my mother told me. But there are quite a few gaps in his war story, and so if anyone can fill those in for me, I’d be very happy to hear from them.
Dad initially joined up with Regt Botha in South Africa and then transferred to TSC (Technical Services Corp) so he could get to the front quicker (little did he know how short his freedom would be!). He was shipped out of Durban aboard SS Mauritania, arriving in Suez the 21-10-1941. He was then posted to a light AA Regt.
He turns up next, according to the ICRC, in PG202, a military hospital near Luca on the 21 October 1942. Then in PG 52 Chiavari, and then near Luca on the 21 October 1942. Then in PG 52 Chiavari, and then Stalag VIIIB on 29 September 1943.
What is confusing me is that all references I can find point to Stalag VIIIB, except the which says ‘Stalag 344’ on the back. I know that the name changed, Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf became Stalag 344 Lamsdorf, and Stalag VIII D Teschen became Stalag VIII B Teschen. I have just received documents from the Czech Republic with some info on E 727, but they had none on my Dad. The University at Opole have a record of my Dad and of E 727.
So to say I am confused is an understatement. I’m wondering, did my father see the inside of both the Lamsdorf and Teschen camps? Or was it only the Lamsdorf camp and then as he was posted out to a labour camp, the name change was only an admin thing?
So among the PoW stories my Mum told me about him, was this one: The one job they had to do, obviously only in winter, was to keep the ice broken about the base of the power station cooling towers. There was apparently only one guard and he would walk in a circle around the tower. The agreement was that if you could see the guard you would whistle a predetermined tune, thereby alerting the next fellow the guard was coming and he would start to work. As soon as he was out of sight they would rest. One would hope there was a fire to keep them warm. Otherwise, standing around doing nothing could become very cold.
Another one was at a sugar beet mill. This is just a story and I have as yet found no proof it. The mill was a multi-story affair, where the bagged sugar would be slid down a slide to the waiting truck. Applying a little soap to the slide would cause the bag to gather too much speed and burst on landing in the truck and providing the POW’s some food/sweetener to steal.
Another story my Mom told us of was of the march in 1945. No mention, as I recall was made of the fact that it was winter. She would say they marched until they heard the American guns, turned around and marched till they heard the Russian guns, turned around and went back to the Americans. This can’t possibly be true, considering the distances involved. The closest I have come to verifying this story is reading in the book “The Last Escape” about a labour group who initially went the wrong way and almost walked into the Russians, then turned and went west. I have not yet contacted the two authors to find out if they have more details on this labour group.
I have virtually no info on the march, other than I know they were released by US troops around the 24 April 1945. Again my Mom told me that the US troops gave them a car and told them to go enjoy themselves before being shipped off to the UK for repatriation.
So if anyone can help throw any light on my research into my Dad’s story, I’d be very grateful. Please contact me via this website.
Received: November 2004
From: Richard Bryson
On behalf of: John ‘Jack’ Bryson